The NBA and Nike just released the 2019-20 iterations of their City Edition jersey series. Obviously, that means it’s time to rank them all.
Since 2017, Nike teamed up with the NBA and created the City Edition jerseys, representing the “distinct history, rhythm and culture” of each locale. It’s a great concept but one with such a wide breadth could create a lengthy, labor-intensive measure.
“Our teams are thinking about what their uniforms are going to be two years out. They’re really tapping into their fanbase and local market trying to figure out what’s the next story they can tell,” Keri Lenker, the NBA’s director of on-court and brand partnerships, said in an interview.
Trying to be innovative with something fundamentally static — like a city — can make for a daunting task. That two-year process starts with a creative brief where the thoughts and direction of the uniform come together. Next comes the artwork stages. The design team will go through two or three rounds of presenting and receiving feedback until it ultimately gets approved.
. Then it’s on to product development and making the physical samples of the uniform to match the approved artwork. Once final, the jerseys go to retail and are provided for the teams to wear in games.
“What’s unique about City Edition is they don’t have to use core colors or logos so it gives them an opportunity to branch out and really has limitless options,” Lenker continued. “Each team finds different aspects of their franchise and team’s history, whether it’s more connected to the community itself or something that’s a complete extension from the brand. They start by thinking what general area do I want to be in, how can I inspire my fans and how can I connect the players to the community? Then they ultimately select the narrative within there and design against it.”
All the 2019 City Editions have been released to the public. We’ve had a week to let these uniforms wash over us and make informed judgments. Now it’s time for an exercise in subjective objectivity.
Tier 1: Forgot there was homework
30. Memphis Grizzlies: Homework assignments slipped my mind many times over the course of my scholastic career. If I was lucky, the teacher gave a temporary “incomplete” as a grade until I did the task. I assume that’s what happened with the Grizzlies. They knew they had to make a City Edition jersey but didn’t write it down in their notebook and then forgot because they just started playing Goldeneye as soon as they got home.
Memphis comes in last by default since they’re the only team in the league without a City Edition jersey this year. However, they brought back the teal Vancouver kit with the basketball-clawing bear from the Bryant Big Country Reeves era. So they have that going for them, which is nice.
Tier 2: Missing the mark
At least they tried. There’s always next year.
29. Dallas Mavericks – Celebrate Big D’s vitality: It represents the street art of Dallas’s Deep Ellum neighborhood. The idea behind it is solid, the ombre’d execution though, reads like a 1990’s soda that later gets linked to kidney failure or a rejected design from MTV’s Rock N’ Jock game.
28. Boston Celtics – Pluck of the Irish: If your hometown’s Irish pub was a jersey.
27. Detroit Pistons – Motor, muscle and momentum: Alliteration aside, the dual stripe down the middle and violent contrasting colors take a toll on the eyes.
26. New York Knicks – Inspired by the skyline: I know the side panels are supposed to be the iconic buildings of the city. However, they look like a string of generic shapes in proximate adjacency to the NYC skyline. If only New York had a rich history and endless landmarks to draw ideas from.
25. Indiana Pacers – Set the pace: These aren’t great. I’ll give them points for tapping into the state’s racing roots and the asymmetry, but there’s a lot of awkward negative space.
Tier 3: The groutfits
Who doesn’t love a good groutfit? This quartet of cities honors each of their storied pasts.
24. Orlando Magic – Citrus City special: Oranges.
23. Charlotte Hornets – Welcome to the Hornet’s nest: Getting labeled a “hornet’s nest of rebellion” during the American Revolution.
22. San Antonio Spurs – Honoring service and sacrifice: The camouflage pattern salutes San Antonio’s deep connection to the military.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder – Remembrance, reflection and hope: The Thunder’s knit honors those lost and changed forever by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Tier 4: Kinda weird, but in a good way
20. Los Angeles Lakers – Most dominant ever: The Lakers continued their City Edition Lore Series — designs by stars of past Laker glory. First came Kobe Bryant’s black mamba snakeskin motif, then Magic Johnson’s showtime purple. This year was Shaq’s turn.
19. Sacramento Kings – Gold rush central: Call me crazy, but I actually find these pretty cool despite (or maybe because) they look more like a random school from the West Coast Conference.
18. Houston Rockets – Shoot for the stars: Mike Jones and Paul Wall need to come back so they can rock these. As if we needed another reason for Mike Jones and Paul Wall to make a comeback.
17. Chicago Bulls – Sweet home: Anything incorporating the Chicago flag is a win.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves – Twin Cities Charm: The MSP on the front is the acronym for Minneapolis-St. Paul and the soft powder blue is a nod to the old Lakers uniforms.
15. Washington Wizards – Stronger together: I imagine the ghost of George Washington designed these while eating apple pie with a slice of American Cheese melted on top. I feel patriotic just looking at them.
Tier 5: Better, closer, warmer
14. Milwaukee Bucks – Celebrate Cream City: Sure, people got their jokes off, but the Cream City jersey represents the structural cream-colored bricks distinct to Milwaukee and pays homage to the overall dairy foundation of Wisconsin in one fell swoop.
13. Atlanta – The city of influencers: Atlanta’s tagline hints at its clout among the country’s music, fashion and pop culture. But having “Peachtree” emblazoned on your chest buries the lede.
12. Los Angeles Clippers – Celebrar la cultura de Los Angeles: The Clippers found their inspiration through the city’s Chicano culture. Representation matters and this was a cool move by L.A.
11. Philadelphia 76ers – Life, liberty and the pursuit of championships: Just rewrite the Declaration of Independence on one of these bad boys.
10. New Orleans Pelicans – Where the good times roll: One of the liveliest and most colorful cities deserves a jersey adumbrative of its characteristics. The Mardi Gras striping and Tiffany font were a good start but it could have been kicked up a notch.
9. Portland Trail Blazers – Celebrate 50 years of Rip City: The Blazers – who may have the best logo in sports – boast some of the NBA’s best jerseys as well. This retro design harks back to the Bill Walton days and the red lettering evokes the City of Roses.
8. Golden State Warriors – From the town to the city: Another team with the league’s top jersey collections, this iteration skews ominous from the others. The black background signifies strength and intensity, the silver panels illustrate the area’s bridges and the Oakland Tree is stylized on the front emblem.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers – 50 years in The Land: The Cavs took pieces of various throwbacks to form their semi-centennial look. Instead of a Frankenstein jersey, they ended with a clean, colorful arrangement right down to the patch on the waistband.
6. Brooklyn Nets – Bed-Stuy born and raised: Live from Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Nets doubled down on the Notorious B.I.G. culture with his neighborhood graffitied on the front. However, the pièce de résistance was keeping the Coogi sweater trim from last year.
5. Phoenix Suns – Home of the rising suns: At first blush, the jersey itself appears a little plain. But that’s before you notice the decorative trim around the arms and collar. Then you get to the shorts, which are absolute fire.
4. Toronto Raptors – Land of the Renaissance: Did they pick the color scheme based on Drake’s Ovo brand or Larry O’Brien’s championship gold? Doesn’t matter. Either way, these kits are money.
Tier 6: Top floor of the Louvre
3. Utah – Only a matter of time: Each stratum represents the grand rubicund topography of Utah. Paired with their gorgeous alternate court, you might as well be watching the titian sunset over the rocky, bronzed landscape.
2. Miami Heat – The tapestry of Miami: The Heat brought a revelation to the alternative jersey game with its Vice series. They cycled through the motif’s color palette, going from black to hot flamingo to white to aqua blue this year. Not only do these completely embody Miami’s specific vibe and style, they’re also unique and oh so pretty.
1. Denver Nuggets – A mile high and rising: Using the best throwback in the league as the base was a good start. Modernizing it and putting the rainbow stripe and Tetris block skyline on a black colorway is damn near perfect. The chef’s kiss? Adding 5280 (the number of feet in a mile) to the bottom panel on the front.